Person: Babbage, Charles
Charles Babbage originated the modern analytic computer. He invented the principle of the analytical engine, the forerunner of the modern electronic computer.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Babbage entered Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1810.
- Woodhouse was one of Babbage's teachers at Cambridge yet he seems to have taken no part in the Society that Babbage was to set up to try to bring the modern continental mathematics to Cambridge.
- Babbage tried to buy Lacroix's book on the differential and integral calculus but this did not prove easy in this period of war with Napoleon.
- Babbage talked with his friend Edward Bromhead (who would become George Green's friend some years later- see the article on Green) who encouraged him to set up his Society.
- Nine mathematicians attended the first meeting but the two most prominent members, in addition to Babbage, were John Herschel and George Peacock.
- Babbage and Herschel produced the first of the publications of the Analytical Society when they published Memoirs of the Analytical Society in 1813.
- Two further publications of the Analytical Society were the joint work of Babbage, Herschel and Peacock.
- Babbage had moved from Trinity College to Peterhouse and it was from that College that he graduated with a B.A. in 1814.
- Babbage was unhappy with the way that the learned societies of that time were run.
- Babbage, together with Herschel, conducted some experiments on magnetism in 1825, developing methods introduced by Arago.
- In 1827 Babbage became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position he held for 12 years although he never taught.
- Babbage is without doubt the originator of the concepts behind the present day computer.
- Babbage began to construct a small difference engine in 1819 and had completed it by 1822.
- Although Babbage envisaged a machine capable of printing out the results it obtained, this was not done by the time the paper was written.
- Babbage was clearly strongly influenced by de Prony's major undertaking for the French Government of producing logarithmic and trigonometric tables with teams of people to carry out the calculations.
- On 13 July 1823 Babbage received a gold medal from the Astronomical Society for his development of the difference engine.
- Further attempts to obtain government support eventually resulted in the Duke of Wellington, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other members of the government visiting Babbage and inspecting the work for themselves.
- In 1830 Babbage published Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, a controversial work that resulted in the formation, one year later, of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
- In 1834 Babbage published his most influential work On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, in which he proposed an early form of what today we call operational research.
- By that time the government had put £17000 into the project and Babbage had put £6000 of his own money.
- By 1834 Babbage had completed the first drawings of the analytical engine, the forerunner of the modern electronic computer.
- Babbage describes five logical components, the store, the mill, the control, the input and the output.
- The store was to hold 1000 numbers each of 50 digits, but Babbage designed the analytic engine to effectively have infinite storage.
- Babbage decided, however, not to seek government support after his experiences with the difference engine.
- Babbage visited Turin in 1840 and discussed his ideas with mathematicians there including Menabrea.
- During Babbage's visit, Menabrea collected all the material needed to describe the analytical engine and he published this in October 1842.
- Although Babbage never built an operational, mechanical computer, his design concepts have been proved correct and recently such a computer has been built following Babbage's own design criteria.
- The construction of modern computers, logically similar to Babbage's design, have changed the whole of mathematics and it is even not an exaggeration to say that they have changed the whole world.
Born 26 December 1791, London, England. Died 18 October 1871, London, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive